If there is one thing governments do exceedingly well, it's collect data. What they don’t do as well is make that data available in a way that is particularly useful. Looking to change that dynamic, Splunk has begun working with the White House on a Regulations.gov initiative to make it easier to mine the trove of government data.
Splunk opted to make its analytics tools available for free, in this case under the auspices of a Splunk4Good corporate social responsibility program, according to Christy Wilson, Splunk's vice president of product operations. The company did this as a way of supporting broader open data initiatives that are gaining momentum around the globe, Wilson says.
Splunk plans to create a public interface that enables users to explore federal regulatory data through real-time dashboards and visualizations that access data via an open regulations.gov API. The end result will be millions of more-accessible regulatory documents that are searchable by the public. This will lead people to participate more in governmental processes, Wilson claims.
The project is representative of the next wave of Big Data, Wilson adds. Citizens will be able to invoke Splunk to not only discover patterns in data, but also to use that information in a way that provides constructive feedback to the agencies which provide that data. In effect, Wilson says, dashboards created using Splunk are providing government officials and citizens alike with tools that ultimately should make governments both more efficient and responsive.
Open data is essentially a movement that encourages government agencies to publish open APIs that give people access to the data the agencies collect. The good news is that many agencies are being evaluated based on how many of these initiatives they launch as part of an overall effort to improve citizens' quality of life. The end result is something of a competition between municipalities and regional governments to see which can foster the development of new applications that achieve those goals.
In places such as Boston and Edmonton, these initiatives are key elements of a strategy to attract higher-income residents by leveraging digital technologies to provide a better quality of life experience.
From a developer perspective, access to all that data presents any number of potential new business opportunities. Either by accessing that government data directly or through the APIs provided by companies such as Splunk, developers can create applications that correlate public and private data sources in a way that adds unique value. The challenge is that government agencies rely on applications and systems that are several decades old. Wrapping an API or a Web services platform around those applications represents a significant endeavor. As such, it may still be a few years before the effects of open data initiatives are fully felt. But it's more than likely that small teams of developers, creating innovative applications that people can readily access via their mobile computing devices, will be responsible for making it happen.